Monday, 7 June 2010

Spartan Women

For my earlier posts, there are links at the very bottom of this page.

Yesterday, while I made ten cushions from IKEA material, I watched hours and hours of Bettany Hughes's wonderful documentaries, shot in magical Greece, about ancient Crete, Sparta and Helen of Troy, all still available on the UK Channel 4 website. Bettany Hughes is a young Oxford classics scholar with a good delivery and a strong interest in the role of women in the ancient world.

I was shocked to find out how polarised the role of women was, both in ancient Athens and in Sparta. In brilliant Athens, women were uneducated and hardly seen, while the men were only interested in politics, great ideas and in relationships with their own sex. I guess that the Peloponnesian wars that destroyed Athens were fought to combat the very idea of female liberation, so prevalent in their neighbour, Sparta.

In Sparta, the men were militaristic and macho, required by law to have same sex relationships from the age of 12. For Spartan men, "eros" was killing and war: one died in battle, as if one was making love (to men?).
Spartan women, were like the independent women of today, left alone to be landowners, capable ladettes, sometimes homosexual and to keep themselves as fit as the men. Helen of Troy was one of these Spartan women, a princess of astounding fitness and beauty who was "sold" to a Mycenean war lord, Menelaus. It is hardly surprising in view of the marginalisation of its women that the demise of Sparta was due to lack of enough male offspring. Only 500 Spartan soldiers eventually existed.

How could ancient Greece, so great in itself, have warped the roles of men and women, so completely? How could the Athenians have imprisoned their women in their homes and the Spartan ignored their talents and ravishing beauty? Only the Hebrews seem to have to have held a balance between the sexes, brought to its fullest expression in the teaching of Christ. How revolutionary and new, compared with the Hellenistic world, His teachings must have sounded.

I suddenly realised that Helen's flight to Troy, which was only three days sail away from Maecenae, was probably her last "gasp" for the pure air of freedom, away from the soul destroying, abusive culture of her despicable native land, Sparta.

I no longer dream of Greece as a place of fantasy. I see it as a decadent world, which abused the deepest souls of people. No wonder the Thessalonians, Corinthians and Phillippians flocked to St Paul! Here was love, true freedom - sanity at last.

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